Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Pope vs. Lomborg: The Rumble over the Jungle

Here's a debate in Foreign Policy between Carl Pope and Bjorn Lomborg about whether the world is really getting "greener" and what our priorities should be about the environmental and social problems.

Hat tip: Liberty Belles

Monday, July 25, 2005

Global Warming and The Endowment Effect

I’ve been trying to get together a piece on rent-seeking aspects of Kyoto and subsequent global warming policies, but I’ve gotten sidetracked by a number of things. I am on holidays, after all. But one thing I’ve come across is the notion that there is a fair bit of evidence that the benefits of global warming may actually exceed the costs.

Directly leaving that issue aside for the moment, I’m wondering whether the benefits and costs can really be directly compared this way. A fairly large volume of economic research has indicated that people’s willingness-to-pay (demand) curves are very rarely straight lines, and they typically have kinks at the status quo situation. In other words, researchers such as 2002 Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and Jack Knetsch (a professor emeritus at The School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University, where I went to grad school) have found that people are generally much more resistant to giving up what they have then they are interested in obtaining more (this is known as “the endowment effect”). This is presumably due to the psychological effects of reference dependence and risk aversion. With this in mind, I wonder if we need to place more value on the losses that certain regions/individuals will incur because of global warming than we put on the benefits that may also result because of warming (that is, if the comparisons that are currently available are ignoring this effect, which I assume they are). Regardless, it may be important to have some mechanisms in place to compensate those who are net “losers” from global warming, as the costs and benefits are clearly unequally distributed.

The Fires of Jersey

This anti-smoking thing is getting a bit much. A surrogate parent/state legislator in New Jersey has introduced a bill to ban smoking in cars. Beyond the obvious problem I have with the freedom-sucking sound this idea produces, I can't see how this possibly can be justified from a "public health" perspective. Therefore, the rationale must be that smoking while driving is too distracting. Like eating while driving. Or changing the radio station while driving. Maybe those are next on the list. But don't count on it, since they don't have the social stigma that's attached to smoking. Happily, however, it sounds like the bill has little chance of actually passing in the state legislature.

My question: does the cigarette have to be lit to violate this law? Maybe this non-smoker will keep a pack of cigarettes in the car just to have an unlit one in my mouth to keep the cops on their toes.

Via Hit & Run

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

More on ethanol

As a follow-up to my post on ethanol-blended gasoline from last week, you can check out this article by Robert Bryce at Slate on the thermodynamics, economics, and politics of ethanol.

Roberts is it

It is essentially confirmed that DC Circuit Court Judge John G. Roberts is Bush's pick for the Supreme Court (so ignore the speculation below). His profile on SCOTUSblog can be found here.

Edith Clement and the Supremes

Bush will be making the announcement on his Supreme Court nominee to replace Sandra Day O'Connor tonight at 9:00pm. The word on the street is that Edith Clement is the pick - she's supposedly pro-choice and a member of the Federalist Society. Looks good from my end.

UPDATE: 6:30pm EST - According to Tradesports, Clement is no longer the front-runner: Edith Jones is now the favorite.

Out of the Bedroom, Into the Kitchen

The always excellent John Stossel had this to say when confronted with a radio host who couldn't believe the government wasn't tying to stop you (or me) from eating too many Big Macs:

I treasure the moment of silence that followed my saying that government that's big enough to tell you what to eat ... is government big enough to tell you with whom you can have sex.


Democrats: The New Libertarians?

Howard Dean is doing a tour of some Western states and had this to say in Idaho:

"People say, 'Why'd you come here? This is a Republican state,' but they're wrong. This is a libertarian area. We're going to win on a Western platform next time."

Count me as one who would welcome someone bringing a REAL "western platform" to the table and not just lipservice to fiscal sanity, personal freedom and accountability, and small government, but I'll believe it when I see it. The Democrats have some work to do in a lot of areas to be considered "libertarian". Then again, so do the Republicans.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Bears, Berries, and Ethrel

While hiking this weekend in Kananaskis Country, Alberta (see post below), I came across a sign describing a technique they are using to minimize the chances for encouters between bears and humans in the region. In areas with high concentrations of both bears and hikers, the park is spraying Ethrel on the buffaloberry shrubs to get the berries to ripen and drop early to keep bears from entering the area later in the summer to forage. It's an interesting idea, and I'll be curious to see whether it is successful in altering the distribution of bears in the area (in theory, it should).

What was also interesting (and a bit funny), is that the sign also warned people not to eat the berries along the trail, because they had been sprayed. Yet in the next paragraph the text explained that Ethrel is used on many commercial fruits such as apples! But I'm not too worried.

How I Spent My Weekend

This is the view looking over Upper Kananaskis Lake from the summit of Mt. Indefatigable.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Foreign Policy: Then and Now

Here's a few choice quotes for you to ponder:

"You can support the troops but not the president" -Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)

"[The] President…is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation's armed forces about how long they will be away from home. These strikes do not make for a sound foreign policy." -Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA)

"I had doubts about the bombing campaign from the beginning...I didn't think we had done enough in the diplomatic area." -Senator Trent Lott (R-MS)

"Bombing a sovereign nation for ill-defined reasons with vague objectives undermines the American stature in the world. The international respect and trust for America has diminished every time we casually let the bombs fly." -Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?" -Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99

"Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is." -Governor George W. Bush (R-TX)

What's going on? Have we entered some kind of bizzaro world? Sadly, no; we've only entered the world of politics (which of course is just one huge bizzaro world). The quotes above, and more like it that can be found here and here, were made by key Republicans (or pro-war "news" commentators) during the Clinton-supported 1999 intervention in Kosovo. Funny how times change when your party is in power.

The response from the right will no doubt be a reference to 9-11. Yes, times have changed since 1999. But the point is, why is good war strategy then not good stratey now? Why is it now unpatriotic to criticize the president about the handling of this war? Why aren't diplomacy and an exit stratefy important now? Somebody needs to be asking these clowns to explain themselves.

(Hat tip: Scott Scheule at Catallarchy)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Government Can Buy Me Happiness

Will Wilkinson (yes, I know I link to him a lot) has a brilliant little piece on how some people's ideas about what will create happiness often fall very nicely in line with their a priori political assumptions. So yes, I suppose for those people, all these government programs will make them happier, since they'll have "won" in the ideological battle for supremecy. Even if nobody else is really any happier (which is of course the likely outcome - besides dismal failure, of course).

Fire and Ice

I had a discussion today with my old Environmenal Economics professor, Dr. Joel Bruneau, and one of the things that inevitably came up was differences between Canada and the US. He mentioned this book, Fire and Ice by Michael Adams as indicating that based on analysis of a few large longitudinal surveys of people from both countries, the residents of the respective nations are actually becoming more divergent, rather than more similar as conventional wisdom has suggested. You can take a short version of the survey here - let me know what quadrant you are placed in if you do!

UPDATE: If you're interested, I fall really far down in the lower right corner - idealism and autonomy. Which makes total sense if you know me at all. Apparently, the book indicates that while both Canadians and Americans are moving down (more individiualistic), Canadians tend to move to the right (fulfilment, which in this case often indicates a preference for experiences), while Americans are moving down and to the left (survivial, which places more importance on "stuff").

Monday, July 11, 2005

You can get anything you want

...and still have time left over to complain about the injustices of the market economy. Check out Rhys Southan's ad called "Consuming Hypocrisy". His personal blog, like this video, is hilarious.

Being a host city

Being a resident of Vancouver when the it was awarded the 2010 Winter Olympics, I was exposed to much of the debate on the economic benefits/pitfalls of hosting the games. I ended up voting for the games to come to Vancouver in the referendum held by the city (the plan was endorsed by about 67% of the population, as I remember), mainly on the grounds that I really, really like the Olympics and not at all because I thought they were a good deal for the city economically (which I suspect they may not be). I don't know if I'd vote the same way now, but at any rate, Jesse Walker has a good take on the issue.

Meth Rocket

Here's a novel way to get rid of evidence that you're dealing meth: use a rocket.

Hat tip: Jacob Sullum at Reason.

Ethanol: a waste of energy

A new study by Cornell ecologist David Pimentel finds that producing ethanol from plant products requires more energy to produce than is obtained from the resulting fuel. That, coupled with the fact that your gas mileage goes down when using ethanol-blended fuels, and we have to ask why we're trying to produce more ethanol. Actually, what really needs to be asked is why we're subsidizing the production of ethanol using tax dollars?

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Growing Meat in a Lab

A new study out of the University of Maryland has suggested the possibility of growing meat in a lab - which would enable control over the nutrition content of the food and reduce the amount of pollution from livestock production. And we wouldn't have to kill as many animals in order to eat meat.

Orwell and the politics of terrorism

As Bruce Reed explains in Slate, we all could use the wisdom of George Orwell at times like these.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Smoking Bans

Washington D.C.'s city council recently voted to enact a smoking ban in all bars and restaurants. Here in my hometown of Saskatoon, I smoking ban in all buildings open to the public was put into effect as of January 1st, so this is my first time experiencing it as a smoke-free city. (And in the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that I love it, experience-wise, despite my philosophical discomfort with it). Which got me thinking about alternatives to a complete ban on smoking, which is a heavy-handed method for achieving something the market should be able to provide (in theory). Ideally, the owners of the bars should able to decide if their establishment allows smoking. But it is suprising, given the majority of the population that are non-smokers, that more places haven't taken this route. Therein steps the government.

So here's my thoughts on the matter: how about a plan where a civic government issues a certain number of tradeable permits for smoking establishments? If, for instance, there were 100 bars in a city, the city could issue 50 smoking permits. The different bars could bid on these, and those that valued the permits the most would get them. Bar owners are constantly saying that smoking bans hurt their bottom line, so this is a chance to put their money where their mouth is. The city would achieve what is in my mind a desireable outcome: a mix of smoking and non-smoking bars. Then consumers could make the decision to patronize either smoking or non-smoking establishments, and the market should take care of the rest by either driving up the price of the permits if they are indeed desireably, or by making them cheaper if non-smoking bars are more successful.

Of course, this isn't an ideal situation in terms of liberty, but it's an improvement on a total ban, in my opinion. It's an economic solution to the problem. And as much as it hurts me to say this, civic governments could generate a bit of revenue from the sale of the permits.

Comments are welcome - I'd love to hear your thoughts on this idea.

Tierney and Pape on Terrorism

Read this, from Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London Blogging

The Wall Street Journal has a good round-up of links to blogs relating to the incidents in London today. There are pictures from the subways taken by people with camera phones, and examples of people using their personal blogs to let friends and family know they are alright.

Reading those is what pushed me over the edge with this, emotionally. London is a city that is very near and dear to my heart, having lived there for a short period of time while I was in university and having gone back to visit friends there last year. I have personal ties to it as a place, and seeing this happen there makes the realities of the world extremely sad. I can only imagine how those who live there (or in New York or Washington) feel. I hadn't ever been to New York as of 9-11, so it made it much more distant. Now, I live less than an hour away from NYC and have friends there. I hope no terrorist attacks on any scale ever happen there again, but of course that rosy scenario is not likely. When they attack YOUR cities, it hits home even more than it did when it was happening in a seemingly different world. I got a similar feeling when I went to Ground Zero in New York - it made it all-too tangible. I hate that we're in a world where people can be motivated to do something like this. This is no way to have a civilization. Something has to change.

All my best to those of you in London. My thoughts are with you.

London Transport getting back on its feet

Tim Russo links to an update on the status of London tubes, buses, and rail. Pretty impressive, indeed.

The Aristocrats

In case you are in need of something a little lighter (see post below), you may be interested in checking out the movie The Artisocrats, which opens in NY and LA at the end of July and nationwide in mid-August. Here's the trailer.

If you haven't heard of this already, the movie is a bunch of different comedians telling their version of supposedly the most profane joke ever - "The Aristocrats". Here's the NY Times' take on it. In a nutshell, the always starts out with a family walking into a talent agency, and the punchline is always "The Aristocrats!". The guts of the joke involve the joke-teller putting the family into the most lewd and obscence acts they can come up with- and the more offensive, the better.

Sounds like a tribute to free speech. I can't wait to see it!

London Hit by Terrorists

The scale is nowhere near as large as 9-11, but London is now the victim of a large, coordinated terrorist attack. It will be interesting to see how this affects public opinion in Britain (and elsewhere) about the war on terror and in Iraq. Personally, it does strengthen my resolve that we really need to take care of these people using whatever means necessary.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Google Maps - it keeps getting better

Here's another cool application of Google Maps. It's a pedometer - so you can use it to measure the distance of a course you run or bike without having to drive the route (or if you run on trails that you can't drive on, you are out of luck if you don't have a cycle computer).